Alcatel launched two affordable yet well-built Android 6.0 Marshmallow smartphones at MWC 2016, the Alcatel IDOL 4S and the IDOL 4. What sets the Alcatel new smartphone apart is their ability to transform into VR headsets, thanks to its brilliantly designed packaging.
We reported about the leaked specifications in early February, when the two phones appeared briefly on the brand’s website.
Formerly known as Alcatel OneTouch, Alcatel is the mobile brand, backed by Chinese manufacturer TCL China Corporation, which bought its joint venture partner Alcatel-Lucent in 2005. Alcatel aims to become one of the top 3 handset vendors in the world, and it looks like the drastic improvement of its new flagship phones may help the manufacturer to reach that goal.
In fact, I was agreeably surprised by the great quality of those smartphones with lower price points than show stars like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or the LG G5, and after being used to see Alcatel OneTouch mid-range smartphones at previous MWC editions.
Read the complete article with our first impressions of the IDOL 4s and IDOL 4
Industrial Design (very good)
The Alcatel IDOL 4S is the flagship with a larger chassis, a thinner body, a better display and a beefier processor than the IDOL 4. The IDOL 4 series offers a premium feel thanks to the glass touch on the front panel and the glass back cover. Both the 4S and 4 will be offered in four metal frame options: Gold, Dark Gray, Rose Gold and Metal Silver.
Gallery: IDOL 4S
The larger, 5.5-inch IDOL 4S, is ultra-thin at 6.99 mm and surprisingly very light (149 grams), which is a hair thinner than the ultimate star of MWC 2016, the Samsung Galaxy S7 that stands at 7.9 mm. The thicker 7.1 mm IDOL 4 features a 5.2-inch handset with a similar industrial design. Both devices feature mid-range Qualcomm processors, the IDOL 4S sports a Snapdragon 652 and the IDOL 4 gets the Snapdragon 617.
Both phones sport the rounded Boom key on one side, a unique physical button that triggers a number of features that I will describe in another paragraph, and at the bottom of that side you will find the volume rocker.
On the other side the power button seats alongside the SIM card slot that can carry a MicroSD or a second SIM. At the bottom of the smartphone a USB connector and the audio jack at the top, and both narrower edges feature a microphone, so you can pick up the phone both ways and your voice will still sound clear.
The IDOL 4S measures 153.9 x 75.4 x 6.99 mm body while its sibling IDOL 4 gets a 147 x 72.5 x 7.1 mm body.
Display (IDOL 4S very good – IDOL 4 good)
The IDOL 4S gets a high quality 5.5-inch QHD (2560×1440) AMOLED display, which delivers high contrast and vivid colors. The viewing angle is good. As a comparison, the 5.5 inch iPhone 6S Plus only offers a full HD display for a device priced at $749.
Gallery: IDOL 4S 5.5-inch QHD display
The smaller 5.2 inch IDOL 4 offers a Full HD (1080×1920) IPS LPTS display.
Video playback and Audio Quality (very good)
During my brief encounter with the IDOL 4S I could play one of the VR videos stored on-board: the video quality is good and the sound was clear when set at 80% maximum volume, a good performance given the noisy environment on the show floor. (See video)
Obviously, the two powerful 3.6-watt speakers helped to deliver that clear sound.
Alcatel worked with JBL and Waves to tune the audio quality, and on the hardware side, provides a good audio quality on all sides, thanks to the addition of the speaker grille on the front and the back at both the bottom and the top of the devices, so the sound is unobstructed, no matter how the phone is positioned.
Both IDOL 4 series are shipped with J22 JBL headphones that include Hi-Fi surround sound.
Boom Key (very good)
One cool feature that sets the IDOL 4 Series apart from the plethora of smartphones launch this year at MWC 2016 is its Boom key that basically acts as a shortcut to trigger a number of often used functions.
Boom my Camera
The best thing you can do with it is to capture a photo instantaneously when your phone is off, by double clicking on the Boom key. When you hold and press it, you will put the camera in burst mode right. (See video)
Boom my gallery
While in the photo gallery, press the key to automatically arrange the photo into a collage.
Boom my videos
Produce effects like replaying the previous one second three times or changing the playback speed. When recording a video, pressing the Boom key will broadcast the video live.
Boom my music
Powered by Waves, this feature allows TO enhancing the bass loudness and clarity of the audio across all media.
Boom my game
Customized for the Asphalt race game, the boom key releases the Nitro and boosts the car speed.
Boom my View
Creates more intense parallax 3D effects for the launcher and a live weather display on the home screen.
VR packaging (innovative!)
The most attractive and noticeable feature of the IDOL 4 Series is its ability to transform into an entry level VR headset using the plastic packaging box. Powered by Google Cardboard, the VR experience is the same as the one found in the carton goggles that Google introduced two years ago at Google I/O.
Innovative UI that goes upside down
The other cool unique feature is the reversible UI, you can pick up your phone any way, it will instantaneously switch the display interface in the right direction and your voice will sounds the same no matter how you pick up the IDOL 4 and 4S.
Camera (looks good on the paper)
According to the manufacturer, the camera delivers ultra-fast auto-focus (0.1 to 0.3 seconds) and good low light performance.
The IDOL 4 offers a 13 MP rear camera with flash while the IDOL 4S features a 16 MP main shooter with flash. Both devices get 8 MP for their front camera and a flash.
We need to get a unit to check image quality and low light performance.
Performance and storage (regular)
Alcatel strategy is to deliver very good performance for a lower price point than the most powerful devices on the market such as the Samsung S series or LG G Series or even the Huawei latest Mate8. In that regard, both devices are powered by mid-range Qualcomm processors, namely the Snapdragon 652 with 3GB RAM, 32GB of internal storage for the IDOL 4S and the Snapdragon 617 with 3GB RAM and 16GB storage.
The storage can be extended with a MicroSD card up to 512 GB.
The user interface was still very responsive on both phones, however, we need to get the units for a longer time to know more about the performance for gaming and other activities.
Battery (IDOL 4S is good)
Battery life is one of the most important features for users since no one likes their phone to die in the middle of the day. 3000 mAh is becoming the norm nowadays, and the IDOL 4S delivers on that side. The IDOL 4, being smaller with less pixel to turn on, offers a smaller capacity battery at 2610 mAh.
According to the manufacturer, both smartphones will last one day on one charge.
Price and availability
There is no official word on the price, however, the spokesperson at the Alcatel booth told me that we can expect a price around $499 for the IDOL 4S, which significantly lower than the $749 price of the iPhone 6S Plus or the Samsung Galaxy S7.